In the summer of 2018, I found myself navigating the challenges of being a single mom to four kids when my gallbladder decided to act up. Emergency surgery left me facing a $5,000-plus medical bill. This prompted me to actively seek ways to get help paying medical bills.
Using some of the strategies outlined in this article, I managed to slash over $2,000 from those bills, making a significant impact during a critical time.
Dealing with a substantial pile of medical bills is no picnic. The landscape of insurance coverage has evolved, and many individuals now grapple with deductibles, co-pays, and additional expenses that often surpass the savings of the average American.
📈 According to studies from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, out-of-pocket spending on medical bills has more than doubled in the last 20 years.
💵 The median income in the U.S. hasn’t kept up with that pace, only rising by roughly 55 percent in the last 20 years or so.
🏦 Nearly 70% of Americans have less than $1000 in savings, leaving them poorly equipped to deal with medical emergencies.
Low levels of savings combined with higher deductibles, co-pays, and out-of-pocket costs mean that even Americans with insurance can easily face a financial crisis due to illness or injury. If you want to know how to get help paying your medical bills – or medical bills you might face in the future – we’ve got some solutions.
Where To Get Help Paying Medical Bills
There are several places to look for help with your medical bills. Let’s start with government programs.
Almost all government programs that help people with medical bills have some sort of income or other stipulation required before you can qualify. You’ll have to do some research to find the right program for you.
Government Programs That Help You Pay Medical Bills
There are several government programs that can help people pay their medical bills or qualify for reduced-price services.
Medicare is a government program that helps those getting Social Security benefits pay for their medical bills. Several groups of people may qualify for Medicare:
- People over the age of 65
- People with medical disabilities
- Those with end-stage kidney disease
If you fit into one of these three categories, you may qualify to get payment for up to 100% of your medical bills. You can learn more about Medicare here. You will not be eligible for Medicare benefits unless you have paid Medicare taxes for at least ten years.
Medicaid is the government’s answer to health care needs for adults who don’t qualify for Medicare. Each U.S. state has different eligibility rules.
If you qualify you could have up to 100% of your medical bills covered. Your income and several other factors will determine your eligibility for Medicaid coverage. The criteria vary from state to state, so you’ll need to check your state’s rules to see if you qualify.
You might be surprised to learn that the income limits for Medicaid are fairly high in some states. Learn more about Medicaid eligibility here.
3. Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
Medicaid partners with the CHIP program to pay for the medical bills of children whose parents cannot afford insurance coverage or who are not offered medical insurance through their employer.
As with Medicaid, CHIP eligibility requirements vary by state. If you qualify, you may be eligible for free or low-cost medical care for your children. Learn more about CHIP here.
Aside from government programs, there are other agencies that may be able to help you pay your medical bills. Find out how to qualify for Medicaid or CHIP with our step-by-step guide.
Non-Governmental Agencies That Help With Medical Bills
Private non-profit organizations may be able to assist you with paying medical bills. It’s important to check the qualification lists and fine print on the program websites to be sure you’re eligible before applying.
1. RIP Medical Debt
RIP Medical Debt runs a program that forgives medical debt for needy people groups such as veterans, the elderly, the poor, and even for middle-class families struggling with medical debt.
When donors contribute to this non-profit charitable organization, RIP Medical Debt uses the funds to buy patients’ medical debt from clinics and hospitals for pennies on the dollar. The hospital or clinic then considers the debt paid in full. Instead of selling debt to a collection agency, the hospital sells it to RIP Medical Debt.
The RIP Medical Debt website states that recipients of debt forgiveness through their program have no adverse tax or other consequences.
2. Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF)
The Patient Advocate Foundation helps patients who are fighting to pay medical bills. PAF helps people locate sources of copay assistance and financial aid to pay medical bills. The grants to help pay these bills have eligibility and availability requirements that vary frequently. See the PAF website to see if you qualify for available help.
PAF may also be able to help you understand your bill, spot errors, and negotiate a better price from your healthcare provider.
3. PAN Foundation
The PAN Foundation was created in 2004 with the purpose of helping underinsured people with life-threatening, chronic, and rare diseases get the care they need.
To find out if you qualify, you’ll need to fill out an online application and answer questions. If you’re accepted into the program, you’ll get financial help with your medical bills for a full year.
The PAN Foundation offers help such as copay and coinsurance help, financial assistance for transportation to and from medical appointments, and health insurance premium assistance.
4. HealthWell Foundation
The HealthWell Foundation assists people with chronic or life-altering medical conditions. They help patients with costs such as prescription copays, treatment costs, health insurance premium and copay costs, and more.
The organization offers funds to both new patients and returning patients. See the foundation website in order to apply for a grant or learn more about the programs it offers.
5. National Organization For Rare Disorders
The National Organization For Rare Disorders (NORD) provides financial assistance for life-saving or life-sustaining medical needs to help patients that cannot afford the cost themselves.
There are a variety of disease and financial criteria that must be met in order to qualify for financial assistance through NORD. Grant award levels vary for each program, and same-day approval for applicants is common.
6. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offers a number of financial assistance options for those suffering from leukemia and lymphoma. Financial aid options include one-time grants of $100 or more, transportation grants, copay assistance, and other types of financial aid.
Call the organization at 1-877-557-2672 or visit their website via the link above to get more information about the types of financial aid they offer as well as the process for application. Note that some programs may have limited availability.
7. Good Days
Good Days provides financial assistance to people suffering from a range of life-altering diseases. Some of the diseases they pay medical bills for include:
- Various cancers
- Eye conditions such as Retinal Disease and Macular Disease
- Hepatitis C
- Multiple Sclerosis
The diseases covered can change at any given time based on available funding. Read the eligibility criteria before applying online as there are income and other guidelines.
RxHope is an organization that works with pharmaceutical companies to help patients get reduced-price or free prescription drugs. The amount of assistance provided is based on the guidelines set by the pharmaceutical company for the specific drug.
You will have to meet income guidelines to qualify for this program. The patient can start the application process, but you will need assistance from your physician, another medical worker, or your social worker in order to complete your application.
NeedyMeds is a comprehensive website that shares information on a variety of organizations that can help you pay your medical bills. With NeedyMeds, you don’t fill out an application as you do with other sites. Instead, NeedyMeds helps you search for help paying your medical bills, prescription costs, and medical transportation costs. You can search the site by disease, by prescription drug name, and more.
See the NeedyMeds website for more information about specific organizations that may be able to help you pay your medical bills.
Other Ways To Get Help Paying Medical Bills
If you’ve exhausted all other resources and still need to get help paying medical bills, consider one of these options.
1. Verify Your Bill
Coding and billing errors happen often in the world of medical services. When I had my gallbladder removal surgery, I was able to get a $4,000 ambulance bill trimmed down to $800 simply by getting a coding error corrected.
Be sure to check all of your bills carefully and verify correct coding with your insurance company.
⚠️ You may have been billed for a service you didn’t even receive, or a service may have been coded incorrectly when submitted to the insurance company.
2. Obtain A Patient Advocate
Patient advocates exist to help patients and/or caregivers work with medical professionals and organizations to ensure they’re getting the care they deserve. A patient advocate’s duties can include helping the patient verify that all medical bills are accurate, helping to negotiate with providers, and helping the patient or caregiver find ways to pay those medical bills.
There are free patient advocates that work on behalf of the government or for non-profit agencies such as the Patient Advocate Foundation mentioned above.
You can also hire for-profit patient advocates to help you understand your bill and negotiate with providers.
⚠️ Be sure to review the advocate’s cost carefully before deciding to hire one.
3. File An Appeal Or Request An External Review
If you believe that your insurance company has treated you unfairly, you have the option to file an appeal.
An appeal letter should contain information about why you feel a claim was handled improperly and supporting documentation to prove your claims. You can file an appeal on your own or ask a patient advocate to help you.
In many states you can also request an independent external review of how your claim was handled. Your state’s Attorney General’s office can provide more information on how to request an external review.
💡 If your state doesn’t have an external review process for handling insurance claims, you can contact the Department of Health and Human Services at the federal level.
4. Ask The Hospital Or Clinic About Financial Assistance
This is the technique I used to get a $2,000 bill from my local hospital completely forgiven. I called the billing department to ask about financial assistance. After completing the hospital’s payment assistance application, I found that I was qualified to have the bill completely covered.
According to the IRS, all non-profit hospitals must have some type of financial assistance program in place. The qualifications for that assistance can vary, but they must offer something.
☝️ Note that many for-profit hospitals also have financial assistance programs in place, and some clinics may as well. It never hurts to ask the billing department you’re working with about financial assistance.
Many people treat a medical bill as a fixed sum, like most other bills. That’s a mistake. Insurance companies negotiate all the time, and you can too. Check the costs of your procedures against the healthcare bluebook and ask for discounts on anything that seems out of the ordinary. Ask for the same rates insurance companies get. Don’t just accept the charges as a given.
💡 If you can’t work the price down, try to negotiate an installment plan. Many hospitals are willing to set up terms, and as long as you make regular payments they are unlikely to sell your debt to a collection agency.
American medical care is extremely expensive, and even those with insurance may face costs far beyond what they are able to pay. If you’re struggling with medical bills, it never hurts to explore options like those listed above. Don’t panic when you see your bill for the first time. Help is out there, and you can find it.